Hovhaness: Symphonies No. 22 (City of Light); Symphony No. 50 (Mount St Helens)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Hovhaness
WORKS: Symphonies No. 22 (City of Light); Symphony No. 50 (Mount St Helens)
PERFORMER: Seattle Symphony/Alan Hovhaness, Gerard Schwarz
‘Hovhaness’s music is not yet given extensively at ordinary concerts, except under the composer’s own direction. Its tranquillity and gentleness is still too alien to an age predominantly dissonant and rhetorical; but sooner or later so large and distinguished an output should find its way into the general concert world, even if only for its contrast and exotic value.’ So wrote Grove”s Dictionary in 1954. Well, today should see Hovhaness’s triumphant arrival if music’s moral majority succeeds in getting us all ‘back to basics’. But somehow I doubt it.


According to New Grove, Hovhaness is an astonishingly prolific composer. By 1973, he had written 25 symphonies; ten years on there were a further 25! This recording couples No. 50, written in 1983, with No. 22, which dates from 1971. Both works are marshmallows, gluttonously kitsch and laboriously serious. Hovhaness’s musical style is an eclectic soup of Hollywood/ Western and Hollywood/Oriental with a dash of Renaissance modalism thrown in. Symphony No. 50 is a musical tribute to Mount St Helens which blew up in a violent volcanic eruption in 1980. I’d stick to Messiaen for this type of thing. The Seattle Symphony plays admirably under Gerard Schwarz (in the 50th) and under the baton of the composer in No. 22. Annette Morreau